Towards equality for women and men in root and tuber agri-food systems Taking action every day for an equal future

UN Women notes that 2020 represents a crucial opportunity to mobilize global action to achieve gender equality and human rights for all women and girls. At the International Potato Center (CIP) we back this campaign, and see it as an opportunity to continue delivering science-based innovations that benefit both men and women by enhancing access to affordable nutritious food, fostering inclusive sustainable business and employment growth, and strengthening the climate resilience of root and tuber agri-food systems.

As CIP marks International Women’s Day 2020, we share these testimonials with you—from our scientists and beneficiaries in Asia and Africa.

Breeding nutritious crop varieties: Does gender count?

CIP and its partners are continuously breeding potato and sweetpotato varieties to meet the emerging constraints imposed by climate change and to provide varieties that meet consumer and market demands.

Dr. Barbara Wells - CIP Director General with Dr. Maria Andrade - Senior Sweetpotato Breeder inside a screen house in Mozambique.

“For many years, crop breeders focused primarily on increasing yields and they consulted invariably with men to understand which characteristics they desired. As a result, the new varieties produced were not as widely adopted as they could have been. Gender preferences count. Some varieties yield more while others take more time and firewood to cook. These characteristics affect men and women differently. Firewood collection and cooking is normally done by women, while men often control crop sales." - Dr. Barbara Wells, Director General, CIP.

"Our breeders now incorporate gender preferences into the product profiles for the crop varieties they develop. Consulting women about their preferences is driving wider adoption of crop varieties: higher incomes, better nutrition and shorter workdays for women.” – Dr. Barbara Wells.
Felistus Chipungu, crop management specialist showcases one of the released orange fleshed sweetpotato varieties in Malawi.
In Malawi, women have come together to grow improved potato varieties.

Seed system development - involving women makes a huge difference

An effective seed system can help mitigate climate change impacts – such as increased incidences of pests, floods, droughts, and disease – by helping smallholder farmers access quality materials that yield better harvests. In our work around the world, we see women’s innovations and expertise transforming their communities thanks to new opportunities that allow them to acquire skills and knowledge about new agro-technologies.

Access to good quality sweetpotato and potato planting material is key to better yields.

"In a recent farmer training session on quality planting material, I noticed there were few females participating. I asked those present why women didn’t take part in potato farming in their community. I was told that potato farming was mainly done by women. Then I asked why they weren’t in the training. The men said, ‘We are here to represent them.’ From that point, we understood that to achieve our objectives we had to find a way to increase women’s participation in training events without violating norms of the local culture. – Dr. Paul Demo, CIP Regional Director for Africa.

Potato farmers in Malawi gather for a cooperative meeting. Here, they share knowledge and also encourage each other in potato production. Very few women used to attend these meetings.
"We agreed that future trainings would need to be 50-50, women and men. With this increased participation from women, we saw a 52% increase in potato yields. Simply by bringing women to the front in potato growing, we found great success. And that lesson will stay with us in all our future work.” – Dr. Paul Demo.
More agriculture for development projects are ensuring inclusivity when it comes to access to agricultural knowledge.
Farmers harvest potato at a demonstration farm in Malawi.

Women leading the way in seed system development

Cecinta Nduru is a commercial seed potato producer based in Eastern Kenya. She is helping grow Kenya's potato seed system. Through value chain trainings provided by CIP and partners through USAID’s Accelerated Value Chain Development (AVCD) project, she is now a Village Based Advisor (VBA). She sells clean seed to farmers and trains them on good agronomic practices. Thanks to her efforts, many farmers are now accessing clean potato seed and generating better harvests. Watch her story below.

"As a woman scientist, it is always rewarding to see improvements in livelihoods for women benefiting from commercial-focused agriculture, as is the case with Cecinta." - Monica Parker, Senior Scientist, CIP.
Cecinta Nduru with a customer outside her mini screen house used for production of seed potato.
Rooted apical cutting used for production of seed potato.

"The divide between men and women became clear to me when conducting a situation analysis of passion fruit farrming in Rwanda in 2003. The team would discuss production and marketing aspects about passion fruit with the women at their plots, which were close to home due to the high commercial value of the crop. When I asked the women about sales, they were unable to answer. They said their husbands managed this, but they were not home to ask. When driving through the villages, I observed many men gathering together in village centers, drinking from straws. These moments embedded in my mind as I witnessed the gender rhetoric, and I chose to do better.” – Monica Parker.

Collective action helps overcome challenges

Chabit Morunyang lives in Northern Uganda. For Chabit and other women in her area, access to sweetpotato planting material has always been a challenge due to the distances one has to travel to access the vines. However, there is hope for her community. A group of women led by Chabit have come together to multiply and sell sweetpotato vines in the area. To support such farmers and ensure they are not left behind, Joshua Okonya – CIP's research associate in Uganda – is training them on vine multiplication as a business to serve their community.

Chabit and female members of her community have set up a vine multiplication plot to supply sweetpotato planting material within the area.
"Trainings for farming on the business side and the agronomic side should not be limited to men alone. Women have all the skills to become agriculture entrepreneurs." notes Joshua Okonya.
A sweetpotato vine multiplication field in Northern Uganda.
Orange-fleshed sweet potato with enriched levels of Vitamin A

Developing inclusive value chains

CIP has developed tools, models, and technologies for integrating sweetpotato into multiple value chains: from community‐based agriculture to higher value urban markets for bakery products and nutritious snacks. We have aimed at creating equal opportunities for both men and women, boys and girls.

"It's impossible to achieve impact at scale without considering and integrating gender diversity, equity and equality into program delivery. It is imperative to promote participation of women and youth by ensuring they can benefit from our interventions, such as equal access to nutrition education, planting materials, and other economic opportunities along the sweetpotato value chain." – Joyce Maru, CIP Program Coordinator for Sweetpotato.
In Bangladesh, more farmers are growing orange-fleshed sweetpotato.
A nutrition education training session in progress in Bangladesh.

For instance, CIP has developed and implemented the Farmer Business School (FBS) approach for over a decade with the aim of strengthening the business and marketing skills of farmers and facilitating their participation in value chains.

"Initially the FBS approach did not fully recognize that gender dynamics are inextricably bound to value chain development, which is highly dependent on strong linkages and positive collaboration among actors, including women. Accordingly, gender was mainstreamed into the FBS approach by making it more suited to respond to the different perceptions of men and women and to accommodate their different needs and circumstances. For instance, during the training, we focused on ways to minimize the risk that women’s income-generating activities could interfere with other domestic and farming chores, and thus create tension within the household. This resulted in a higher participation of women who are a driving force against hunger, malnutrition, and rural poverty." - Diego Naziri, Value Chain Specialist at CIP.

"We found that income generated by women graduated from FBS was more likely to be used to improve family welfare in terms of food, health, clothing, and education for their children." – Diego Naziri.
Yolanda Niegas, left, listens in on an Aqua Business School session in Binokyahan community in Tacloban, Philippines. The sessions teach participants how to participate in the market and become players in the local value chain.
Some of the benefiaries of the FBS trainings outside of the kitchen where they prepare sweetpotato products in the province of Bohol, Philippines

From housewives to businesswomen: Stories of change in Bohol, Philippines

In the Philippines, smallholder farmers are joining forces to develop and market sweetpotato products. Through Farmer Business Schools women have learned how to participate in the market and become players in the local value chain. This model was introduced in the area with generous funding from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

"Every day we dream of having a stable job. Thanks to the FBS, we have gone from being plain housewives to productive business women. The FBS helps us financially because of the income that we receive from the products that we process. The FBS also strengthened our bond as an organization because the women in the community became productive. Today, with FBS we are all bonding and we are all gaining because perseverance solves problems." – Alvira Gumanoy, FBS Graduate.

Alvira Gumanoy in her sweetpotato plot.
Several women have joined forces and have learned business skills, including production, marketing, and how to participate in value chains.

Read Alvira's story and others here.

CIP thanks all donors and organisations which globally support its work through their contribution to the CGIAR Trust Fund.

Created By
Vivian Atakos


Cover photo: Chris De Bode/ CGIAR. Others: Vivian Atakos/ CIP; Nathan Rono/ CIP; Joshua Okonya /CIP; Sarah Fajardo/CIP; Hugh Rutherford/ CIP; Sarah Quinn/CIP; Susan Macmillan/ILRI